Mahler in Manhattan
One of the most beautiful pieces of art on display at New York’s Lincoln Center—it can be seen in Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic—is the cast of Auguste Rodin’s bust of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Those who know little of the composer’s life could be forgiven for supposing that it was placed there to commemorate Leonard Bernstein’s advocacy of his music. In truth, it honors Mahler himself: the first person to serve as the Philharmonic’s music director once the orchestra was reorganized as a full-time professional ensemble in 1909.
After Dvorák, Mahler was also the first great European classical musician to come to America not as a tourist but as a resident. In 1908 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut with Tristan und Isolde, conducting five more operas there over the next eighteen months before moving on to the Philharmonic, which he led until just before his death in 1911. Yet Mahler’s American years are widely viewed as a mere footnote to his European career, and the role he played in the early history of the Philharmonic is little known save to scholars.
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